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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "Charlie Casanova" Director Terry McMahon

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 7, 2011 at 8:43AM

Erudite, harmless, ruling class egotist, Charlie Barnum's smoke and mirror articulations conceal a prejudiced, over-educated sociopath who refuses to be bound by the restrictions of morality, law or even reality. When Charlie knocks down a working class girl in a hit-and-run, he uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate. Dangerously subversive, provocatively dark, and satirically disturbing, you’ve already met Walter Mitty and Billy Liar, now it’s time for you to meet the darkest member of that twisted trio; the man of our times, Charlie Casanova. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]
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Erudite, harmless, ruling class egotist, Charlie Barnum's smoke and mirror articulations conceal a prejudiced, over-educated sociopath who refuses to be bound by the restrictions of morality, law or even reality. When Charlie knocks down a working class girl in a hit-and-run, he uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate. Dangerously subversive, provocatively dark, and satirically disturbing, you’ve already met Walter Mitty and Billy Liar, now it’s time for you to meet the darkest member of that twisted trio; the man of our times, Charlie Casanova. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

"Charlie Casanova"
Narrative Competition
Director: Terry McMahon
Producer: Terry McMahon
Cast: Emmett J. Scanlan, Leigh Arnold, Damien Hannaway, Ruth McIntyre, Tony Murphy, Valeria Bandino, Johnny Elliott, Thomas Farrell, Tommy O'Neil, Glenn McMahon
Screenwriter: Terry McMahon
Cinematographer: Eoin MacKen
Editor: Tony Kearns
Sound: Lorraine McCarthy
Music: Marc Ivan O'Gorman

Responses courtesy of "Charlie Casanova" director Terry McMahon.

High art as the cure for loneliness...

From a small town in Ireland and living alone in a series of abandoned buildings as a teenager for about a year, I’d click on a small battery operated radio and tune into late night music. That’s where I first heard the Andante from Mozart’s Concerto No.21. I had never experienced anything like it. The transformative high of art hit and I was an instant addict. Music stores and bookstores literally became cathedrals of sanctuary. On welfare day, I’d buy rationed food, deluding myself into believing there was enough until next week, then decide which cut-price books I could buy. Books were drugs, I was hooked and life became half fiction.

I remember reading Dostoyevsky’s "Crime and Punishment" and relating so profoundly to Raskolnikov I feared I might murder my landlady. Thankfully that feeling went away but the loneliness didn’t. Movies now joined books as co-addictions and, with the local video rental store doing a five-film deal, that same relentless junkie chasing every impossible high gorged on everything. Guilty as charged then, worse than ever now, and long may it continue.

The inspiration for the film's depiction of class injustice...

Two similar incidents happened in Dublin around the same time that provoked my own evaluation of the class system in Ireland. There was a gang attack outside a nightclub in Dublin where a kid, Brian Murphy, got killed. He was beaten to death by four educated Blackrock (the elite college in Ireland) students whose fathers were connected. The standard laws that apply to the aforementioned working class were suddenly open to obscene manipulation and Brian Murphy’s death became a footnote in the lives of his protected killers. The second attack was on Grafton Street. A rural Librarian was beaten into a coma by two middle tennis players whose position in society and father’s wallets bought them out of a conviction. These two events were the seeds of the idea to create a dangerously pathetic modern Walter Mitty whose deluded deal with fate makes him a sociopathic God.

Facebook as a filmmaker tool...

Frustrated by three green-lit projects collapsing during finance stage, I typed into my Facebook status: "Intend shooting no budget feature, ‘Charlie Casanova’ a provocatively dark satire, in the first couple of weeks of January. Need cast, equipment, locations, and a lot of balls. Any takers?" This is sincere so bullshitters fuck off in advance. I had seen people make ten-minute short films that cost a hundred grand and here was I blindly believing a bunch of strangers solicited on a social network site could make a feature film for free. Within twenty-four hours a hundred and thirty people made contact. I got back to everyone insisting they had to read the script before going any further so they’d know what they were getting into. The script was a bit of a bastard you see, but they read it and they ‘got it.’ With the first day of principle photography only three weeks away, a mass blind date was set, and "Charlie Casanova" was dragged kicking-and-screaming to life.

An unconventional shooting style leads to obsession...

That first day, standing with a young crew and a cast courageous beyond measure, most of whom were now shitting themselves because they had spent a couple of days rehearsing with me and were in a state of shock at the physical and linguistic gymnastics they were going to have to achieve in uninterrupted takes; all of them wondering if this freak show writer-director was going to drag everyone down the toilet with him. They weren’t alone. I was wondering the same thing, my sphincter, so tightly coiled, like the inside of a golf ball; one slight tear and...I realized we didn’t have a shot in hell if we restricted ourselves to a conventional approach. We had to be brave. Balls out brave.

As news spread we were going to shoot twenty-three pages of script on day one, the crew accurately asserted that not only was their director a madman, he was worse, he was an imbecile. We shot the film in eleven days. Pickups or re-shoots were never going to be an option. Our final scene was shot on a dark and dangerous roof top in sub zero temperatures, the equipment was returned, we all went to a nightclub, where I went to a secluded corner, paused a moment, gently smiled, and violently puked up my innards.

Next day, my three kids, who had forgotten what their daddy looked like, wondered who the stranger was in their home, and their mother wondered why in hell she hadn’t hooked up with somebody else. I looked at all of them, honest to God love in my heart, and lied that I had gotten it out of my system and now we could go back to our reality. The next day, as I sat at the breakfast table listening to my loving family, it was at least twenty minutes before I felt the pull of "Charlie Casanova" in the pit of my stomach. It was determined to firmly plant its spoilt corpulent ass there until it had successfully solicited my undivided attention. I had become slave to this moving image mistress and had yet to learn that film is a skanky succubus conjuring painful obsession even as it ridicules your inability to bring it to climax. Then the country caved in. Like too many under the new austerity regime, I got shafted in work, lost my writing job, and the bank took steps to foreclose on my home. There was always a political subtext to this filmic endeavor but when we shot the film in January of this year, who could have possibly envisaged the degree to which the small but proud Ireland would be shafted by the controlling class?

On future projects...

The hardcore prison story "The Dancehall Bitch" is the one I have been obsessed with making, however the time wasn’t right, until now. It is the dark tale of Issac Greenblatt, a naïve academic who goes to jail intent on studying man but his cell mates are more interested in teaching him about the nature of woman. It has the kind of complex roles that actors rarely get to explore anymore and I know it would be an iconic, unforgettable film. I have several other original screenplays that I also want to make so there is plenty of choice. At this stage, all I really want to do is make provocative and powerful cinema, in whatever form that takes.

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